Distinguished guests, laureates, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be with you today for this important event. Let me thank the Midas Touch Asia Institute for inviting me to join you. It is always a pleasure to visit this extraordinary country, especially as Singapore celebrates 50years of independence.
This anniversary is an opportunity to assess what has been achieved and to reflect on the challenges ahead. You have every reason to be proud of your accomplishments. Today, Singapore is a thriving business and financial hub, making a major contribution to the prosperity and stability of the region and beyond. This country is indeed an outstanding example of Asia’s rise in the world.
And many of you are amongst those leaders who put Singapore on this path of development. But to no one can this be more attributed than to the nation’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew.
I was deeply saddened by Mr. Lee’s recent death. His long-term vision and leadership are behind Singapore’s success story. He brought good governance to Singapore long before the concept was coined by the international community. He understood that any country, even a country with no natural resources and limited land can succeed if it has visionary leaders, clean governments, and well-educated and healthy citizens. And he understood the need to integrate the environment and development; his vision is the reason that Singapore is known today as the greenest city in the world.
As we look around the world, it becomes clear that this long-term vision is needed more than ever before. While economic liberalisation and integration has been driving growth and opportunity in many regions, progress has been far from even. Millions of people still live in abject poverty and hunger, and are threatened by violent conflict, instability and disease. In many places, inequality is growing and widening the gap between the richest and the poorest.
According to Oxfam, the richest 1 per cent will own more than 50 per cent of the world’s wealth by next year. Environmental degradation and natural resource depletion continue unabated. And man-made climate change is driving the world to the brink of catastrophe. Rising temperatures and changes to rainfall patterns are reducing harvests and fresh water supplies, and sea level rise is threatening to drown coastal cities and small island states like Singapore.
Ladies and Gentlemen, these are challenges that transcend borders. No country, no matter how successful and wealthy, can hope to tackle them on its own. We need to think and act collectively. The path to greener economies and more sustainable development lies through partnerships with others.
Singapore, like many countries in Asia and the world, understands that multilateralism is no longer a choice but a clear imperative. And there are of course a number of lessons that its neighbours, and other countries, can learn from Singapore about building the foundations of a healthy and sustainable society.
Good governance is one – and a critical one. Strong and effective public services are essential in promoting good and democratic governance – as this is the case in Singapore.
Singapore also understands that diversity is a key source of strength for societies in a globalized world. Long experience has taught me that, whatever our background, what unites us is far greater than what divides us.
Singapore has also demonstrated the benefits of investing in its population. That gave the country a knowledgeable, skilled workforce, which played a crucial role in Singapore’s remarkable economic progress since the early 1960s and in establishing the country as a leader on green growth and environmental protection.
Through effective policies and regulatory frameworks, Singapore is tapping into the economic opportunities arising from climate change, creating high value jobs and strengthening research and development capabilities. On the international level, it supports the global drive to limit greenhouse gas emission through an effective climate agreement.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I said earlier that the role of governments working in partnership is vital in addressing today’s complex challenges and advancing sustainable development. But it is not governments’ responsibility alone. It requires cooperation between every sector of society. And business must be at the heart of this endeavor.
We must always remember that business cannot succeed in a society that fails. This means looking beyond economic growth and shareholder interests in favor of long-term solutions. It requires businesses to take initiatives that support the society around them. Many businesses across the world and in Singapore are accepting this responsibility.
I would encourage companies in Singapore to build partnerships, especially in Africa, that can create jobs and contribute to sustainable growth. Companies are already undertaking projects to improve access to food and clean water, to sanitation, healthcare and education.
In little over a decade, more than 8,000 businesses joined the UN Global Compact, aligning their operations with a set of core principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption. The private sector now understands that both business and society stand to benefit from working together. 2015 brings a crucial test to this partnership.
World leaders will define a new set of global development goals and frame an agreement on climate change. These goals will not be achieved without the full engagement of the business world.
In no area is this more true than climate change. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has shattered the myth that we have to choose between economic growth and jobs on the one side, and climate stability on the other. There is no trade-off.
Companies are now shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy and are driving research, innovation and investment to facilitate the transition to a green economy. Six of Europe’s largest oil and gas companies have recently called on governments to introduce a global carbon pricing system.
Here in Singapore, we are seeing seawater and sewage turned into potable water thanks to marvels of modern technologies. Universities and research institutes are partnering with the private sector to develop energy-efficient building designs, smart transportation systems, and climate-friendly waste management solutions. Responsible investors are assessing the social and environmental impact of their investments to make the right and critical choices.
But more needs to be done. It is crucial that companies embed sustainable development in their marketing strategies, production processes and value chains. I also encourage the private sector to share experiences with other stakeholders and learn from best practices on sustainable development.
And as we head towards the Paris climate conference in November, I urge businesses to press their government to work towards an ambitious and legally-binding climate agreement to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I recognize that this is an ambitious agenda. There are many challenges to overcome, but progress towards a new era of sustainability is possible as Singapore is showing. What is required is sustained and bold leadership from every sector. So let us all live up to this responsibility.
I have always maintained that healthy, democratic societies are based on three pillars: peace and security; inclusive development; and the rule of law and respect for human rights.
There can be no peace and security without development. And there can be no long-term development without peace and security. And no society can long prosper without respect for the rule of law and fundamental human rights. By working together we can build a more sustainable future for all founded on these pillars of progress.